With Ironman Chattanooga almost two weeks in my rear view, I hasten to document the experience of taking my body over 144.6 miles by water, by wheels, by feet.
I am starting with thank you:
God. For blessing me with a healthy, mobile body and a heart for endurance. For the beautiful planet we inhabit including the soil and mountains and water that reside in your gorgeous city of Chattanooga, TN.
Cameron. For asking your soldiers to change the world in a way that is changing us. For giving your SpeakUp race team purpose and push and hope. For your smile and hug that I miss so much.
My husband and children. For never complaining about the time Ironman training took away from you. For believing in me 100% of the time. For being proud of me when I couldn’t be.
My teammates. So much life lived together. So much more to go. For the symbiosis that became one body, one heart on that course. Same tears. Same smiles. Same pain. Same purpose.
My friends. You know who you are. You texted. You called. You posted. You sent your positive vibes. You donated. You stayed up late, very late waiting to see me finish. You told me you were proud of me. You made me feel special even when from the back of the pack, I couldn’t feel it so much.
Swim. With the aid of a downriver current. It was amazing. The usual slug fest from hundreds of arms slicing out a freestyle stroke to get to T1 had me sending light and love to the dude who slammed my head 4 times. GET IN YOUR LANE. Oh wait we were sharing one big lane. Best part was starting with my sister. Staying close until we knew we were each okay was a highlight. And guess what, once we told each other ‘I Love You, I’m okay.’ It was head down and GO. We still finished within a couple of seconds of each other. I’ll take her pace any day of the week. I’ll take her courage and heart and light. If only.
My baby sister… no words.
Bike. Beautiful hilly course with a ton of elevation change. I felt strong. I made some decisions that cost me some time but mostly I was prepared and confident. I still don’t know why Chattanooga requires 116 bikes miles instead of the usual IM 112. I need to work on nutrition but mostly I was glad it was done and felt lucid enough to smile as I started the gawd-awful run.
Run. After about 7/8 miles of relatively flat, there are 3 hills so steep they punch you in the chin. And you get to do it twice. At the half marathon mark, athletes have access to a ‘special needs’ bag which contains items to help you stay strong and motivated to keep (in my case) slogging it out. When I packed my special needs bag, I decided that Trident, bubble mint gum might be just the thing to motivate me to keep going. I love gum. In this case, gum doesn’t work. I was wrong.
About halfway, I experienced GI issues that NOTHING seemed to cure. After stopping 4 or 5 times to preserve the color of my shorts for the finish line pic (gross. Sorry for the non running readers. There is no dignity left.), I started to see that indeed I would make it.
Not before I enjoyed this script on auto pilot in my head:
Here I go again. I am so slow all my teammates have to wait a VERY long time for the likes of me to finish.
This is the stupidest thing I have ever done. Who do I think I am?
I did NOT want to go this mentally low since my Challenge Roth experience, and here I am, again.
My teammates and I went to ironman camp over the weekend. The pic below is proof we survived.
We are repping the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation through the SpeakUp Race Team, an organization dedicated to erasing negative stigmas associated with teenage anxiety and depression and to providing help and hope through education and positive activities at either Ironman Chattanooga or Ironman Louisville this fall.
Nestled in the hills near Charlottesville, Virginia is Wintergreen, a resort for Mid Atlantic skiers to whet their appetite for real western mountains and wintertime adventures. It is also Mt. Everest to me.
There are breweries, wineries, and spas galore. Do not be fooled by the fluffery and fun that can be had at this resort.
Last weekend was NO VACATION.
There are many details to share about how I worried an ulcer in my gut for the anticipation of the workouts (exaggeration) and how much I LOVE the people I am training with (not an exaggeration) and why I am on fire to complete this race (TRUTH). But I will spare you those.
This is a candid moment of the bike route description with Coach/Friend Parker Spencer (famous rising star in the triathlon world, good friend, good person, good-god-does-he-push-us guru of fitness)
Following are some highlights:
It’s the climb. I don’t know the grade or the elevation of the bike course but I will tell you I have never gasped for and choked on my breath AT THE SAME TIME. I have very generous thighs but my heart and lungs were being very stingy. This lasted a long while. Additionally, I have never considered pulling over on a downhill for sheer terror. Check. Considered but not done. White knuckle grip and positive self talk got me to flat land.
Profanity does help. I am not proud of it and it’s not pretty but I can tell you when Parker said we’d likely be cussing him during the second leg of the bike route he was right. I do not however, think he was prepared for the rotten filth that actually tumbled out. And I liked it. That is all. Suffice to say we had to explain to our English learning Spanish compatriot who joined us for the weekend what some of the phrases meant. He just turned 18. I said I wasn’t proud.
Sleep makes everything better. The bike experience was rough. We witnessed a cyclist, whom we did not know, being air lifted to help after he tumbled down a deep ravine at a sharp switchback. He survived but it was serious. After we settled down from that and had an appropriate fit, we relaxed, whined and wined a little and tried to get rest for day 2 of camp fun. And like the cussing, it worked. Parker prepared a perfect run course and provided feedback for all campers as he rode the loop on his mountain bike. We then received awesome swim feedback and performed drills to improve technique at the resort pool. We all then hopped in the hot tub to debrief with weekend and talk through our upcoming races.
Indoctrinated. You know you are cyclist if you belly laugh to this:
At almost 80 years old, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge is one of the wonders of the world, and one of the most photographed things on the planet.
By 2020 it will be impossible to die by jumping off of it. According to a Golden Gate District press release, a stainless steel net, will be installed about 20 feet down from the main Bridge roadway, extending 20 feet out, with a slight raise on the outer edge will deter suicide attempts and catch those determined to try.
Beginning on the east side, the net will be installed along both sides of the Bridge, running 1.7 miles in each direction. It will be constructed to have minimal visual impact, with 90% transparency.
This super safety net costs $76 million dollars.
According to Kevin Hines, it is worth every penny. Kevin, like over 2000 others, tried to end his life by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.
He, like 35 others, failed.
On Wednesday, thanks to the Cameron K. Gallagher Foundation I got meet him and hear his story firsthand. Kevin is holding Cameron’s SpeakUp5k race shirt. (2014 edition). Cameron’s cousin, Kathleen (my daughter) is on his left.
Kevin had a rough start. He was born to parents addicted to hard drugs. As a toddler, he was adopted by people he considers his parents and raised in a family with love but not without problems. His parents divorced, a beloved teacher committed suicide, and in his teens he succumbed to bipolar disorder with paranoia and auditory and visual hallucinations. He was sick. He needed help. He felt he had no hope.
Sixteen years ago this Sunday, Kevin methodically and purposefully made his way to the bridge hoping for a sign not to jump. He didn’t get it. However, he says he experienced instantaneous regret the minute his hands hit the rail. But it was too late to pull is body weight back. It took 4 seconds to break the surface of the water at which time he broke several vertebrae. The bone fragments pierce many of his internal organs. He used his arms to get to surface. It took much more than 4 seconds to break the surface of the water from the other direction. And he has severe asthma.
He now works as a mental-health advocate, traveling the world to share his story in the hopes of preventing suicide. His first book, Cracked, Not Broken, a memoir of his life before and after his suicide attempt, was released in 2013.
Kevin’s father, Patrick Hines now sits on the advisory board for The Bridge Rail Foundation, which works to stop suicides on the bridge. That group is largely responsible for advocating and raising the $76 million dollars for the life-saving net.
The first time Kevin spoke publicly about his life after the suicide attempt was to a group of 7th and 8th graders at his alma mater.
This is the focus of programming like Minding Your Mind provided free of charge to area high schools by the CKG Foundation. These are school based workshops and presentations to give teens real tools and resources to help with anxiety, depression, stress, and other mental health issues. And to end the stigma associated with these challenges.
Kevin is so stoked about the work of CKG, he had to pick up Cameron’s shirt.
He says he will come run the SpeakUp5k next year and you should too.
Warning: Long post, but 140.6 miles is a long way to go. Thanks for taking the time to read.
A long time coming with purpose that cannot be over played, Challenge Roth 2016 in Germany was an epic adventure. My first full-distance triathlon, my first trip to Europe, my first time turning 48. My first days after crossing the finish line are fresh with hope and intention and inspiration. I have almighty God, a mighty fight by my niece, and the magic blessing of love from my family and friends, teammates and strangers to thank for this life I now have after the race. This is one of those defining events that marks life before July 17, 2016 and after. I hope this happy hangover never goes away.
After a severe OWPA (Open Water Panic Attack) during the practice swim, I was filled with dread the nasty monster would again take up head space during the actual swim 2 days away. Because our teammate who triples as a nationally known coach, race director and endurance sports entrepreneur, got back in the water to talk us back from the OWPA ledge I started to believe I could keep my head clear of the water demons. So I did what most might. I had a beer for lunch.
My mantra that was engine for the swim was: All Good. No Doubt. Go. Go. Go. Compliments of my sister, Mary-Suzanne. It was the exorcism to the OWPA monster who rattled my front door during the race but never got in. Because I have poor sighting skills am an over-achiever I swam 2.8 miles instead of the required 2.4. Oh well. I was still (super) happy with my time.
The course was magical – through towns so picturesque and quaint, God owes me nothing for the dreams of Europe He planted in my head when I was a little girl. I had technical issues (lost chain at the bottom of a major hill which I cranked up with no momentum from a previous downhill, mistakes with water bottles, cages that didn’t hold and general nutrition probs. I have A LOT to learn here) that stole time but not enough to keep me from the cut-off.
The legendary Solar berg hill is as astonishing as Roth veterans testify. They say the energy from the crowd pulls you up that hill in Froome and Frodo fashion. I say I knew my quads had a ton to do with it but the push from the crowd who loves their country and their race kept the legs churning.
After 112 miles, and more hours than I expected, I happily turned my bike over to the volunteer to start the final leg of the race of my life so far.
During a pre race pep talk, my dear friend Beth Risdon shared that the key is to learn to ride the wave of the day. Don’t get to comfortable in the highs and know the lows will pass. You need to stay mentally strong and believing that things won’t necessarily get worse when you are struggling.
Because of a nagging foot injury I had a run/walk race strategy from the start. I felt pretty good and settled in to that for the first 4/5 miles. Slowly but surely I began to break down. My painful foot and GI issues plagued my run. As I passed the half marathon mark I knew I wouldn’t get pulled from the course but I also knew unless I picked up speed I may not make the Roth-specific 15 hr time requirement. Ironman time limit is 17 hours.
The Darkness and The Light
While on the last out and back at about mile 17/18 the sun began to set. As I entered a stretch of trail I took the head lamp and started to mentally and spiritually break down. I knew all of my team mates were finished or almost and realized there were absolutely no other runners near me. It occurred to me that the ones behind me were pulled perhaps at the half way mark and I started to believe they were the lucky ones. (I am not minimizing the terrible feeling of being pulled off a course that has your heart and soul all over it but whereas I was well into the run… 18/19 miles at this moment I still had a shit-ton to go)
I was alone in a foreign country with a very painful foot and stomach issues. Course support was just about nil. No water. No food. No cell phone. No light. No one.
I exited the woods about mile 20 still very much alone.
Keep moving forward. Keep moving forward.
I reached a stretch of soft pavement by a lovely during-the-day canal and saw blessed volunteers breaking down what would be the last opportunity for water or calories. I desperately needed both and knew my body would gobble them up faster than the finish line loomed.
Don’t stay in the lows. Don’t stay in the lows.
Grace is worried about me. What if my legs buckle and I can’t move? There is no food. There are no people. I have no cell phone. I still have 4/5 miles left. I am alone in a foreign country. No light. No food. No people. Depleted…. almost.
I toyed with shame an embarrassment. No one wants to be the sweeper or the last teammate. With the SpeakUp Race Team, I am in company with Kona kings, Could-be-pro’s, and born-to-swim-bike-run athletes with heart, moxie and staying power who eat pain to help others. I may not have speed but I refuse to be the weak link. I did not want to be pitied. Pride poked through my madness but quickly left when I needed to stay in the moment to make it. Pride took up precious space in my constitution until it left with this prayer. (remember I am still very much in the race. At this point it’s my race I am going for Ironman time.)
God, I know I am in your Grace. But I am afraid. Help me.
Within moments a gentlemen came behind me and asked in broken English if he could Finish This with me.
God, really? That was fast.
In true Cameron Gallagher fashion, I said to him: “Let’s Finish This.”
Jean-Marie is from France, a 3-time Challenge Roth Finisher with a number of impressive races under his belt. I am in very, very good company in every way. We have each given over to mostly walking with a few stretches of jogging. It is mile 22.
Two strangers, one an angel to another. We knew we’d Finish This and likely in Ironman time. Along the way he learned about our amazing SpeakUp Race Team, our purpose and our maker. I learned his family has been dealing with mental illness for quite some time.
I have a spot in Paris for my family to visit and a free tour guide.
He taught me to be proud of myself. I taught him about the changing face of depression and mental illness drawn by Cameron. We held each other up – he more than I, I feel sure. But together, nonetheless, we fought the good fight. We finished the race. And with a little help from a friend, we kept the faith.
My team. My husband. My BFF in Boulder. My friends. My children. My siblings. My parents. My collective extended team family. My Coaches. My niece, my Cameron. All.
You are my all in all.
They don’t give out Ironman medals at Challenge Roth. Our Moose gave me his. Our Jeff gave me his commemorative finisher’s beer stein. This belongs to Us. All of Us.
Here’s his medal
Thank you, Moose
Challenge Roth taught me what God’s been trying to show us all for all time.
You matter. What you do makes a difference. Everything you think, every word you speak, every task you complete and those you don’t. Everything matters. It’s a gift to be alive even when it’s hard.
During a recent workout led by my Ironman, Businessman, Great Man brother-in-law, a pack of athlete ambassadors planked, lunged, bear-crawled, sprinted, stretched and fist pumped knowing the mantra is true. Give purpose to everything you do, it all matters.
Thanks, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winning Poet, Mary Oliver for the ask.
The journey. The destination. Make it all count.
Ponder away but don’t forget Socrates’ wisdom:
To do is to be.
This guy was smitten with the message.
I hope you are too.
Go. Do. Be.
Runners: It’s an honor lace up your shoes even more when it’s hot or cold or you hurt (but aren’t injured) or you don’t want to.
Yogi’s: That mat is your salvation, unfurl it, salute the sun even in the rain. Before you know it, you’ll be standing on your head resolving all your issues.
Tri-athletes: How awesome is it to move our body over crazy long miles in water, on a bike, on your legs? When it gets hard and you are suffering you thank God that you can. Your highs and your lows – all of it matters.
All people: It is not what you do when you chase your dreams but who you have become while you are in the process of achieving them.
On December 23 I drove 34 miles at 5:15am to swim 2,000 yards with my race team. On this day, Dave Murray – guitarist for Iron Maiden turned 59. I am not a fan of British heavy metal music but I am of events that inspire a good headline. This one is truth indeed.
Here they are:
My teammates extraordinaire (plus one not pictured, here) – the best of the best in heart, tenacity and inspired purpose. It’s never easy for me to get up in the 4’s as I call it… but getting to see my own personal Iron Maidens makes me smile each and every time no matter the ungodly hour.
And so it’s a year of such. Lucky me. Two long distance triathlons when I haven’t done even one.
2016, I have you by the fitness horns.
Led by a Coachand an angel, our team will blaze a trail 140.6 miles long and make a difference in the lives of those effected by depression and anxiety. We are finishing the work of a beautiful maiden whose iron will and determination to live her truth and help others remains tattooed on our purpose.
One of the jewels of our training can be a regular yogaand mindfulnesspractice. I eat this up as a yoga teacher and new triathlete would. I will be serving it by the bucket loads to my team mates. Mostly, I think they are up for it. Just maybe not in the 4’s.
Athletes, do you incorporate yoga in your training?
Yogi’s, do you also love a good swim, bike, or run?